Illustration by Angelika Manhart

I knew I wanted to be a scientist when…

Every participant in the basic Science Communication Workshop at NYU writes a narrative responding to the prompt “I knew I wanted to be a scientist when….” The results, archived here and supplemented each semester with new essays, represent a rich and diverse literature on the nature of scientific inspiration. These stories begin in China and India, in South America and in middle America, in small towns and big cities. They all prove the wisdom of Henry Adams’s observation that “any road was good that arrived.”

I knew I wanted to be a scientist when…

Wrong Turn

By Amy Marshall-Colon

After a week of growing mold on bread and germinating grass seed in two-liter bottles, earth sciences week at my grade school in West Virginia culminated in a day of environmentally themed activities and lessons on how to “Give a Hoot and Not Pollute.” For the big finale, all us kids wrote Earth-friendly suggestions on […]

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I knew I wanted to be a scientist when…

Orgami in the Void

By Jennifer E. Padilla

There was a time when I had nothing left to lose in my scientific career. I had almost nothing to show for three years of postdoctoral research at Caltech, and I had lost my father, my inspiration in science, during that time. Without a good endorsement from my postdoctoral advisor, I had few options. It […]

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I knew I wanted to be a scientist when…

Red Shoes

By Xiangbin Teng

My red shoes cost me ninety dollars. I can’t afford more expensive shoes as a graduate student. My Chinese friend Shawn bought a pair of black shoes after he quit graduate school and found a job in Wall Street, four hundred dollars a pair. We used to take the train back to Newport after long […]

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I knew I wanted to be a scientist when…

Horseshoe Crabs and Clovers

By Sandra Schnakenberg

My parents didn’t believe in keeping up with the Jones’. We didn’t have the latest and greatest toys or gadgets. My parents insisted that my siblings and I play outdoors. I am much older than my brother and sister, which meant that I spent a lot of time outside, doing my own thing. My own […]

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I knew I wanted to be a scientist when…

Dropping Out

By Tim Currier

A waiting room. House plants in need of watering, stacks of two year-old magazines, water cooler in the corner. Clock ticking furiously on the wall. Why are waiting room clocks always so loud? A middle-aged woman with soft features and reddish-brown hair pokes her head out of an office door. “Tim?” she asks. “Yeah, that’s […]

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